If you aren’t a space or physics geek, you may have missed one of the big, looming questions left by 20th-century scientists. Namely, we have a theory to explain how things work on a small scale—like magnetism holding together atoms (quantum mechanics)—and a theory to explain how things works on the large scale—like gravity coaxing planets to orbit one another (Einstein’s theory of relativity). But what we don’t understand is how these two ideas mesh together to explain it all. So the current Holy Grail in math and physics is a Grand Unified Theory capable of gluing the two worlds together into one.
Today, at 4 p.m., a man named Eric Weinstein will present his own unifying theory at the University of Oxford because he was invited to do so. And that’s a point of particular significance, as Weinstein may have a Ph.D. in mathematical physics from Harvard, but he’s spent the last two decades outside of academia. He’s currently an economist and consultant at a New York hedge fund.
So do you want to hear his big idea? You know you do. From The Guardian:
In Weinstein’s theory, called Geometric Unity, he proposes a 14-dimensional "observerse" that has our familiar four-dimensional space-time continuum embedded within it. The interaction between the two is something like the relationship between the people in the stands and those on the pitch at a football stadium—the spectators (limited to their four-dimensional space) can see and are affected by the action on the pitch (representing all 14 dimensions) but are somewhat removed from it and cannot detect every detail.
Because of our limited purview—what Weinsetin calls a “handedness”—we simply can’t see things like the dark matter that we know resides in our universe. Along with that:
He proposes that dark energy is a type of fundamental force that could sit alongside gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces. This force pushes space apart and its strength is variable throughout the universe. Furthermore, Weinstein’s theory predicts the existence of more than 150 new subatomic particles, most of them with exotic properties (such as electric charges that are greater than one, which is the maximum seen in nature at present).
No, it’s not exactly a simple idea (though I’d urge you to read the entire Guardian piece if all of this is gibberish), and it’s very likely wrong (or best case, incomplete). But what’s so absorbing about the story is that Weinstein has been talking to some of the world’s leading physicists for the past year or so, and they think he may be on to something. He’s an outsider who’s been invited to add to the conversation on one of the biggest questions of our time.
Plus “Meet Weinstein, Our New Einstein” is the sort of headline that dreams are made of.
[Hat tip: Paola Antonelli]
[IMAGE: Universe via Shutterstock]